Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Uncategorized (Page 4 of 14)

How this political atmosphere is changing me (and this blog, and my twitter)

This Sunday feels like a good time to write about what’s happening on my blog. I haven’t written as much as I would have liked over the past few weeks, so I feel a little explanation is due.

We have not had any actual classes for the past few weeks so there has been any actual teaching since my last class log. Most of those class days were spent floating around the room helping kids, so there wasn’t much to blog about earlier in January. There was also a lot of administrative tasks needed for the individual scheduling for students. (It’s a super cool network of google spreadsheet that I may blog about later on my other blog). … Oh and it was my wife’s birthday. So we had our first baby-sat date night at Olmsted, which was really nice. I plan to write more with the start of February, where I won’t be inhibited by my lack of classes to talk about, my administrative demands, or my frenzied last second search for birthday presents. So I guess that’s the only thing that’s going on with this blog about teaching and learning.

Oh wait. I actually didn’t mention that other thing that happened towards the tail end of January. Technically it was a November thing, but most of the work that I took on didn’t start until mid-January. I really underestimated just how much time I would need to devote to this. What I had to do for this thing was curl up into the fetal position on my couch/floor/classroom, scroll through the as much internet news as I could, and try to convince myself that the world wasn’t imploding. This has been taking up pretty much most of my time for the past two weeks. It started just around the time that my colleagues and I watched the inauguration during lunch.

My colleagues and some students watching the inauguration during lunch

Since the inauguration my attempts to figure out what is going on have been voracious but not necessarily successful. I’m diving into all the political news I can handle, both to try to harvest any optimism from news of the resistance, and to try to make sense of a Trump voters view point. Finding actual information is really hard. There are active disinformation campaigns, information that isn’t made public, and my need to parse through boring information so I can know about typical government procedures. This frustration would make me give up. In the past I’d ignore political news and go about life assuming all is well. I can’t do that now. Partially because of the switch that flipped on election and the healthy paranoia I’ve developed about the world around me around me (I think I learned this from my dad, who listened to Rush Limbaugh on the ride home after work every day even though he hated Rush Limbaugh). The other reason I can’t bury my head in the sand is genuine interest. I really do want to know what all of us Americans thinks about America. Why is it so hard to figure out what prior actually think?

https://twitter.com/JustinAion/status/822848618881306624

The day of the Womem’s march I was slated to teach saturday school. The trains were crazy, so I took a cab with a particular chatty cabby. I asked him whether the march was causing traffic problems, and he replied with “Women! Why are they marching??? They already have everything!!!” To which I replied with a swift punch in the face a heavy-handed discussion of places where male privilege operates. When I got out of the cab I was a little disgusted. I was also struck by how little conversations like this happen. This was the only conversation I had about any political issue with someone I didn’t agree with in maybe 8 months, and it was an election year! Even though I’m off of Facebook, apparently I’m still in the echo chamber that prevents me from understanding what’s driving the people outside the chamber.

Over the past few weeks it’s become clear that I am going to need to develop more faith in America if I am going to be my normal, optimistic, not-paranoid self. I also have learned that the media isn’t helpful, and if it is, it will be very hard to find. But at the same time, I’m surrounded by Americans who perhaps help me restore that faith, or at least help me understand exactly how much further we still need to go. Maybe the next step for my own sanity is to start talking about politics. (*gasp*)

Which brings me to my blog, and my twitter. Both of these are venues to have conversations about America, Democracy, and the political actions that shape them. While I am an educator, and am only interested in this blog and the twitter for developing myself as an educator, I can’t ignore isolate my profession from the world we work in. Education is indistinguishably intertwined with the needs of the public and the way that public is governed. We as a people must democratically decide how to fund our schools, where to build them, and what to teach in them. When students arrive, we must show them how this democracy works, give them experience operating within a democratic system, so they can grow up to lead our democracy into the future. This is a lot of work, more than can be handled in a civics class, work that math teachers can and should be sneaking into their classrooms. This could be modeling what it means to be an active citizen. It certainly means having active discourse about important ideas, and finding ways justify those ideas and defend arguments. It means pushing students to see things from multiple perspectives, cooperating on meaningful tasks, and communicating that work with others. This is all just good math teaching. With only a slight lateral shift, we can help students apply these principles while discussing current events, systems of iniquity, or even the ideals of democracy and in the process make our mathematically proficient students into mathematically proficient citizens.

As educators it seems that we should be sharing strategies to live up to these ideals. As grateful as I am to lean on my extended network for real world contexts for multiplying binomials, I am now also grateful in hearing how to talk about the inauguration, or talk about immigration, or whatever the next executive order will be. Learning what they think helps me to gain more perspective, and will increase the usefulness of a class conversation if students want to have a discussion about these things. Posts like Michael Fenton’s recent one are encouraging. As I try to figure out how to inject more democracy into my teaching, my work with teachers, and my work as an administrator, it will be invaluable to have honest perspectives around these important issues as a part of my time line. Thinking about these things regularly helps inform my thinking, and prepares me to facilitate a conversation about an issue if it comes up in class, or in a parent meeting, or one-on-one with a student.

https://twitter.com/MyMathscape/status/824762528110608386
On Thursday I had such a meeting. A student who disappeared for months returned to school to enroll for this semester. This student is not a citizen. I remember a few years ago he was worried about not being able to go to college. Who knows what his worries might be. Based on what I have been reading, however, I knew that New York City was a sanctuary city, and our mayor was prepared to fight against deportation. I told him that there are a number of resources I could share, resources which I have seen shared across my personal network. The student relaxed, signed up for a full program, and is on track to graduate by June.

Being aware of the political concerns of others, and coming up with ideas for ways to help students understand political issues is now ready important to me. I am really glad to have people on my feed that post more than just math. In fact, I hope people could organize their talks about the intersections of math, politics and democracy into some kind of hashtag or regular chat. That’s a pipe dream, right now I’m going to keep trying to figure out what’s going on, and being really grateful to all the people sharing what they learn on the web. 

If that, or any of this sounds interesting to you, PLEASE let me know in the comments.

Clog: Getting the kids off of autopilot

Today was not a teaching day for me, but I did take some time to think about my class yesterday and my class tomorrow. After my last class on Monday I felt the need to do some soul searching that lead me to want to try something new in my class, and to also start blogging more. I didn’t actually talk about my class in that blog post, so I’m going to do that here.

For my class tomorrow I need to get the kids to talk about things that they care about. In the past when I have done my understanding data unit, students researched things that they at least moderately care about, this class needs to do that too. While we are only 3 days into class, and not starting the research, hopefully students knowing that they are doing research on a topic will help them understand the big picture of our work. Last class it seemed like a lot of kids are expecting to just repeat what I demonstrate.

Thinking back to yesterday, there are a number of things I would do differently. I had them do this whole exercise on sampling small cups of beans when I should have had them first think about the need to sample. I should have had a huge population instead of a smaller one that I meticulously constructed. And I should have encouraged them to figure out a better way to come up with the samples instead of allowing them to do the one that I suggested. Maybe I should have a huge jar of beans and let them think about how to get the information out of it.

Also, if I want them to have a discussion about social justice issues to create ideas for their research, maybe we could just have it, straight up. To plan this discussion, I  asked one of our social studies teachers about having a conversation about world issues. She suggested that memes and facebook/twitter content is a good jumping off point, since that is where the world gets its news now. I can take some time to ask the kids to go on their social media and find images and we can talk about ways to study those topics with a survey.

Statistics for social justice

Here are the slides for my presentation. Thank you for all you people who waited until the last session and ignored a transit strike to come to my talk!

CLOG: Context and Content

I’ve been thinking about a moment from 13 years ago while I was observing Kellie Huhn teach sophomores during my time MSU. 13 years have made the details of the lesson very fuzzy (F.O.I.L.? Standard Form? Quadratics?). What comes back to me was a quick explanation she made about the decision to go “off book” for a lesson. She could have said this: “These kids are getting a little antsy because we are going through all this content so I’m going to have to give them something in context.” It was clear that the class wasn’t behaving poorly, and were ‘doing the work’, but everything seemed deflated. Kellie picked up on this and was using her pedagogic license to direct the class through an activity that would recapture the kids minds. Again, I’m fuzzy on the details on what that actually was (Card sort? Skits? Rich problem set?), but the though still stays with me. As a teacher whose teaching was so non-traditional, I’m pretty sure that my 3 or 4 months of observations taught me that teaching doesn’t have to mean following the book, and challenged me to be inventive as I serve my future students.

So this long weekend I was thinkingabout adding energy to my current class when Kellie’s comment about content and context came to mind. Instructional routines and tasks can seem pretty dry for kids. Without balance it feels a lot more like mastering content than it does real-world context for students. While we spent the last week of class tying together the various representations of linear functions, we may have forgot why they make our lives easier. It seemed time to take Kellie’s words to heart. In thinking of that I decided to adjust the unit a little. I took a modeling activity from 2 weeks from now and decided to run a simpler version of it today.

The actual task that I got was from Dan Meyer’s blog which asked “How many Styrofoam cups unifix cubes would you need to be as tall as your teacher?” Kids could work together and think through the problem, take measurements, and make  a prediction. Since I have a crapload of unifix cubes, they could then actually physically put together the 103 (give or take) cubes to reach my height. In the end it ended up being less of a linear modelling activity and more of a estimation activity, but I think it was something that spoke to the point of precision, counting, answering genuine problems, teamwork, and what math class is all about.

(Side note: Before class started one girl who pulled me aside and asked if I thought she should transfer out of the class because it was too hard. At the end of this, her group ended up getting the closest estimate, and it was largely because of her!)

Unfortunately, this means that we aren’t where I wanted to be in the unit. The kids had a lot of fun and were able to apply a lot of the linear thinking that we have been doing to a real context. We’ll just have to derive the slope formula next class while we wrap up linear thinking with an end of the unit reflection.

Clog: Remote Start

Today is the first day of classes!  …and of my school’s two day retreat on descriptive inquiry. This means I don’t get to see the result of my stressed, late night lesson planning. Luckily my kids were in very capable hands the other Trig teacher stepping up to take the coverage. Let’s take a step back and talk about what this cycle’s class is all about.

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